For most of us, the '78 movie Corvette Summer didn't quite hit the heights of some of the other movies that prominently featured cars, such as American Graffiti or Thunder Road or even Smokey and the Bandit. Even with the star power of Mark Hamill, fresh off his Luke Skywalker role in the blockbuster Star Wars, Corvette Summer was more like the kind of Saturday afternoon schedule-filler movie you'd tune across on one of the independent UHF channels enroute to some real entertainment like, oh, Roller Derby.
The plot has Kenny Dantley (Mark Hamill), a car-crazed Los Angeles high school senior, building a Corvette as a class project. The finished car gets stolen, and Kenny hitchhikes to Las Vegas to recover it. Who should pick him up but Vanessa (Annie Potts), an aspiring prostitute. Kenny tracks down his purloined Corvette, outmaneuvers pursuing bad guys, whisks the girl away from her sordid situation, and returns home to Los Angeles, where goodness prevails over evil.
Critics weren't impressed. "To enjoy Corvette Summer, it helps to abandon common sense. In this film there is not a single credible plot development or convincing character," wrote reviewer Frank Rich in the September 25, 1978, issue of Time magazine, concluding that "As long as one doesn't demand too much of it, Corvette Summer delivers a very pleasant two hours of escape."
OK, so we don't have cinematic royalty here. Still, we do have a genuine movie star car, even if the movie wasn't an instant classic. As a genuine movie star, its career began in an unlikely way. It was a '73 Corvette with the base L48 350 and Turbo 350 automatic transmission. Then it got rear-ended in traffic—hard. So hard that the insurance company declared it a total loss. Next stop, the junkyard. While awaiting its turn in the crusher, who should come along and "discover" the wounded Corvette but Producer Matthew Robbins and Director Hal Barwood. It was perfect for the movie they had in development, in which a high school kid builds his ultimate dream Corvette. They bought it and had one of their key characters.
The injured Corvette was turned over to Dick Korkes of Korky's Kustom Studios, who was given the assignment of turning it into a movie star for MGM. It emerged as the wild machine you see here.
Its mostly stock engine got an Edelbrock dual-quad high-rise with a pair of vacuum secondary Holleys. Transmission and drivetrain remained stock, but the frame was rigged for mounts to hold the movie cameras, and the front end was converted to a fliptype. Electrical conduit helps form the frame for the new front end. Fiberglass was laid very heavily across the frame to form a radical new shape. Square Caprice-type headlights were set in the permanently open position. Giant air scoops replaced the front bumper, and a huge mountain in the center of the hood held four screens on one side, and six,open to the rear, on the other. Very wide Superior turbine wheels, a popular style in the day, were added all around. The car still has the period BFGoodrich raised white letter radial tires. Custom sidepipes exited the side in pairs just behind the front wheel, then entered a rockermounted muffler. The usual taillights were scrapped for a huge light-up bowtie panel made with aluminum foil and egg cartons.
Inside, drive and steering were transferred to the righthand side in order to get the star within pinching reach of the hot chicks on the sidewalk. Most of the lefthand steering column was retained, but a chain and a pair of Harley-Davidson motorcycle sprockets tie the two columns together.
Big fender flares and a wild paint job gave it a kind of Japanese animation persona long before that kind of thing became popular. You may find the final product to be a rather garish creation, but even so, it's got a devoted following.
"For all my disdain for the car," says Dennis Gunning, caretaker of the growing collection at Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, Illinois, "it's the most popular car in the museum. We've had people driving in from out-of state just to sit in it."
That's saying a lot because the Mid America Motorworks collection has some real jewels: a '62 big-tank roadster, a '69 427 Tri-power coupe, a Corvette Challenge car, an '82 Collector's Edition, the last '04 C5 Z06, and a '54 Blue Flame roadster. But even the people who hate it can't help but pause to take it all in. During the photo shoot on the campus of Mid America Motorworks, Editor Alan Colvin was asked to move the car from position to position, and he said that the experience was "a blast from the past to
say the least, especially when considering the primitive righthand steering."
This is the primary Corvette used in that movie. A second car was also constructed, which now resides in New Zealand. After filming concluded, this car was sold to a private party and eventually ended up in a Corvette museum in Cooperstown, New York. When it closed, Mike Yager acquired it as part of a package of Corvettes for Mid America's MY Garage collection.
There was a time when our movie heroes rode white horses, out shot the bad guys, and then rode off into the sunset strumming a wholesome tune on a guitar. Well, the '70s were a long ways from the '40s and '50s, and the Corvette Summer car is a long ways from Roy Rogers' beloved horse, Trigger. But culture is always on the move for better or worse. And as long as it's moving in a Corvette, it's that much ahead of the game.